[Marxism] A Scholarly Analysis of the Free Republic Web Site?

Sayan Bhattacharyya ok.president+marxmail at gmail.com
Mon Aug 6 15:17:57 MDT 2007

On 8/6/07, Kevin Lindemann and Cathy Campo <kklcac at earthlink.net> wrote:

> Does anyone on the list know of a scholarly analysis of the Free
> Republic web site? I am particularly interested in finding an analysis
> from a Marxist perspective, but I would also be interested in the work
> of bourgeois scholars if they deal with the class composition of posters
> to the board. My guess is that they are disproportionately small
> business owners and low level managers and supervisors. I am wondering
> whether there is any data on that.

Benkler, Yochai. 1999. "The Free Republic Problem: Markets in
Information Goods vs. The Marketplace of Ideas," paper presented at a
conference entitled Private Censorship/Public Choice: The New Age of
Information Regulation, April 9-11, 1999.

See also:

Why Open Content Matters
By Bryan Pfaffenberger
on Wed, 2001-04-11

Linux Journal

Full: <http://www2.linuxjournal.com/article/4709>

Consider what's happening to Free Republic
(http://www.freerepublic.com; for a legal scholar's analysis, see
Benkler 1999).

Unlike most news-oriented web sites, Free Republic's readership is
growing at an explosive rate, and the reason is partly that, like
other equally successful experiments in open media, Free Republic
makes full and innovative use of the Web's potential as a new
communications medium. The term open media refers to news-oriented
sites that republish news articles in a clearly defined intellectual
context and openly invite reader commentary (Katz 2001). But Free
Republic goes much further than most open media sites, and that's why
it's in trouble. Users are permitted to post news articles in their
entirety. One could argue that such appropriations are entirely
legitimate within the scope of US copyright law, as it permits
uncompensated excerpts totaling 100% of the original copyrighted
material when doing so is essential for effective public analysis and
political deliberation. And Free Republic's readers post the news
articles in the context of an extremist, right-wing narrative in which
the media is seen to be little more than the tool of the "liberal
establishment"; for example, Time is described as "Ted Turner's Commie
Rag". The context demands publication of the entire text, which
readers then dissect in a way that often requires exacting attention
to a subtle turn-of-phrase buried in the midst of the article. In sum,
Free Republic's success in fostering a forum for political
deliberation hinges on its readers' ability to appropriate copyrighted
works without payment or permission, republish them and utterly
transform them in the context of a causticly critical narrative that
satirizes and ridicules the "liberal media," and lays bare the full
text of the articles for massively invasive surgery on Free Republic's
operating table.

Although I recognize that Free Republic is indeed fostering the
spirited debate and deliberation that is part and parcel of a healthy
democracy, I personally disagree, vehemently, with just about
everything I've read on the site. That's why I'd love to start a
neoliberal site that subjects the conservative press to the same,
ungentle treatment, but I don't dare. Thanks to a lawsuit brought by
two major newspapers (Los Angeles Times and New York Times), Free
Republic's days seem to be numbered; a Federal judge has already
issued a summary judgment forbidding Free Republic from reproducing
articles from these newspapers. It seems likely that Free Republic
will have to stop reproducing news articles in their entirety, or,
more likely, the sites' creators will have their personal finances
destroyed in a series of legal battles and will be forced, eventually,
to close up shop.

Admittedly, Free Republic is difficult to defend. Court deliberations
reveal that Free Republic's founder hoped to profit financially from
the huge numbers of web users attracted by the site's polemical
fireworks, fueled by the appropriation of others' uncompensated work.
Moreover, the aggrieved newspapers argued that Free Republic's actions
would cut into the market--minuscule, by most accounts--for their
pay-per-view archives. Still, these objections ignore the larger
issues at stake. To argue that one must eschew profits in order to
foster serious political deliberation places citizens at a serious, if
not fatal, disadvantage vis-à-vis wealthy media corporations. Should
the New York Times have been forced to reincorporate as a nonprofit in
order to publish the Pentagon Papers? Moreover, what interests Free
Republic's readers is today's news, and the site's commentaries on
today's news, not yesterday's. I seriously doubt whether either of the
plaintiffs could prove they're suffering a loss of income from their
lightly-used archives due to Free Republic's activities. But the
newspapers reply that what counts is the principle at stake: the right
of these newspapers to have exclusive control over the distribution of
their "properties" in the new, networked medium.

In the end, the Free Republic case shows why the site's extremist,
right-wing perspective on the so-called "liberal media" is flat out,
dead wrong. If the "liberal media" really were driven by pinko
political commitments, the Times of our largest cities would act in
such a way that neoliberal commentary sites modeled on Free Republic
could emerge without fetters. Instead, they're suing Free Republic,
and the result sends a chilling message to anyone who would like to
use emulate Free Republic's lead.

Full: <http://www2.linuxjournal.com/article/4709>

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